Microsoft Surface Phone: will we actually get one?

The appeal of a Microsoft flagship phone

We have the Surface Pro and the Surface Book so why not a Surface Phone? For several months the rumours have been swirling that Microsoft could be about to put out its own version of the iPhone: a flagship smartphone with Microsoft-made hardware and software.

Despite the speculation, the wait goes on, and there's been nothing official from Redmond. So what are the chances of us eventually seeing a Windows phone to beat all other Windows phones? Here's everything we know and what we think could happen next.

What is the Surface Phone?


Well, just a bunch of rumours and some informed speculation right now, but when Microsoft unveiled the Surface Book last year the next logical step was a phone following the same principles: hardware and software designed and developed by Microsoft. After all, it's not as if anyone else is making Windows phones in huge amounts at the moment.

That's one of the reasons the Surface Book was a surprise - Microsoft's relationship with hardware partners who already make and manufacture Windows machines. It seems they haven't been too upset by the arrival of Microsoft's own laptop, and this wouldn't be such a problem with a phone: essentially there's no real competition for it to go up against.

It would be running Windows 10 Mobile, of course, and would follow the high-end premium aesthetic introduced by the Surface Book (and the Surface Pro before that). Lumias have always had excellent build quality, even if they've not sold in huge numbers, so Microsoft has the engineering know-how somewhere in the company to pull this off.

What we think we know


There's been no official word but we've seen a few hints that a Surface Phone is on the way. Microsoft registered the domain earlier this year, though as it registered at the same time that's perhaps not conclusive. At the moment the URL just points to the general Microsoft portal for all things Surface-related.

Meanwhile, hidden deep in the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 10 is a reference to the Snapdragon 830, believed to be the mobile CPU of choice for most flagship phones for 2017 - that would seem to indicate the OS will eventually run on a Snapdragon 830-powered device, and a device with some bleeding edge specs as well.

A release date of April 2017 has been mooted, apparently to tie in with the next major update to Windows 10, and it sounds like there are going to be multiple models on the way to fit different needs and budgets. Apart from those rumour nuggets, we haven't heard anything more specific about what the Surface Phone is going to offer potential buyers.

Why it's likely to happen


Microsoft is holding its own with laptops and tablets but failing terribly in the mobile phone market, and that's one reason why a Surface Phone would make sense: a top-end, reference design that shows off how good Windows 10 can be on a mobile (the Nexus devices are intended to show off the best that Android has to offer in a similar sort of way).

Unlike third-party manufacturers, Microsoft wouldn't be hugely concerned with sales figures, although it would obviously want the phone to sell well. It would be more a method of kickstarting interest in Windows phones, offering a genuinely high-quality alternative to iOS and Android for those who are invested in Microsoft's ecosystem.

After all, it's difficult to demonstrate the benefits of Windows 10 Mobile if there aren't any devices running it and a Surface Phone would solve that problem. The plan would be for users and other manufacturers to slowly build up interest and plug the glaring hardware hole in what is otherwise an impressive line-up of Surface devices made by Microsoft.

Why it's not likely to happen


With less than 1 percent of the world's smartphone owners rocking a Windows-based phone, and Microsoft cutting jobs in its smartphone division, there are signs that the company has thrown in the towel and given up on the mobile market. At this stage, it seems Android and iOS are just too far ahead for Microsoft to claw back ground.

Against that backdrop, throwing money behind a Surface Phone might not be the best business strategy, and it's possible that CEO Satya Nadella thinks Microsoft should cut its losses and concentrate on its strengths. The job of getting Windows 10 on small devices has already been a tortuous one, so why would anyone want to prolong the agony?

All that said, a couple of official comments suggest Microsoft is streamlining its phone operations and gearing up for one last Windows 10-powered push into the mobile market in 2017 - and if that's the case, there would be no better device to lead the charge than the Surface Phone. This time next year, we should know for sure one way or the other.